At midnight on Friday my lodger John told me he had some “bad news I’m afraid” whilst I was perched next to the embers of the fire with my gripping page-turner. He explained that earlier that day he had lost his shifts at the call centre where he had worked 42 hours a week for 5 months, and so had decided to move out on Sunday when the monthly rent was due. There was not much I could say, his parents would pick him up, he was moving back home. He said that with the last monthly pay cheque he had received he could not cover the rent and eat.

The Telephone Book (1971) Dir. Nelson Lyon

The Telephone Book (1971) Dir. Nelson Lyon

John lived in the single room at my house, with a small single bed, bills all in, reasonable rent. All he has eaten since he has been in the house is frozen pizza. He graduated last July in sociology and psychology. The current annual fees for this course at our local Uni are £9000. So after spending probably £27,000, John wanted to have some more fun for a while, nothing too serious so soon. Then he got a shock because the call centre don’t want anyone serious either, he lost his shifts because the place he worked at don’t like anyone to stay there for more than 4 months. Better to have a high turnover.
I felt sorry for John. Not that he was very full of beans or drive, but for the fact that he was not. I was a little pissed off to lose my rent the day before it was due, but I felt sorry that he seemed so uninspired; “things are not looking too good for me” he said. He is the second newly graduated 23 year old that I have had living here this winter, settling on casual work for months on end as a charity chugger or in the call center. Either there aren’t the jobs or these guys went to Uni in the old style to just get a degree that they do not know what to do with. At £9000 a year, things will probably change soon….Or I am forgetting what it is like to be 23.



Back in wet July last year, a chunk of newly resurfaced road dropped off the map, quite literally, and the Old Beer Road linking Seaton Hole to Seaton, and serving walkers on the coastal path from Seaton to Beer, was closed indefinitely.

Part of the road fell 3 feet down into a sinkhole, like King Kong had taken a massive bite.

The Triassic mercia mudstone of red clay crumbled away notwithstanding the new neat tarmac road surface binding it and there have been other fresh falls along the route to Seaton below. Down along the undercliffs, on the beach, are clearly visible dark new piles of earth and uprooted trees.

The cliff face suffered a landslip, the road and footpath are closed. There is no resolution to date. I walked the long way to Beer from Seaton in late December, up the B3174 with no footpath against the fast oncoming traffic and it was not much fun pressing my face into the hedgerow and hoping the cars would slow down as they approached my feet.

I have a sepia photo of Seaton station on my wall, with two women with scarves on their head smoking, languidly leaning against the wall. The station was a link to the main line, and a link to jobs, industry and movement in and out. Goods loading out, tourists coming in. Access is important, it meant growth, possibility.

The branch line to and from Seaton opened in 1868 and took passengers, milk tankers from the adjoining Express Dairies, fish and quarry stone the 4 miles and 31 chains in length on a single track line north to meet the London & South Western mainline from Salisbury to Exeter.


By around 1937 the resident population of Seaton was 1.300 and the heyday of day-trippers to the seaside was here. An estimated 500 Londoners would make the long distance pilgrimage to the sea on any one Saturday. The line closed in 1966.

The Jurassic coast is celebrated for its geological and historical significance. It is almost too much to contemplate the meaning of 185 million years, but Seaton is the place to go to see all 3 eras of Jurassic rock, including the red mudstone Triassic cliffs, part of which I can see slowly falling in small neat piles towards the pebbled beach.

The landscape changes, and the trends change, but we have to keep the roads open to possibility.


feeling crabby

I had a lodger who did not shower very often.

It is hard not to notice and judge small details about someone who is living in the same house.

As he did not shower much I twitched when ever he sat on the sofa.

He ate a frozen pizza for dinner on the sofa every single night for 2 months.

I have to remember not to notice.

Do you remember the lodger called Tim (and the role play)?

He was in his 30s, and up tight. One day he started smoking. I noticed that he was sneaking out into the garden at night and stood hiding behind the kitchen window so I would not see him. I saw some smoke puffing and empty cigarette packs in the bin and thought wow, why would you start smoking at 30? The fact he was hiding made it doubly weird.

I had a Spanish lodger, Amanda, she was a PHD student. After a few weeks of being at the house she split up with her two-timing boyfriend Luca. There followed many nights of animated loud Skype chats, cigarettes on the back step, and heart to hearts with each of us. The house became quite lively and emotional drama bound us together whilst we all spent more time together to look after Amanda. She was sweet. I liked her. Her English improved considerably after the break up as she spent many late nights spilling her heart to her new closest friend, another lodger, Mike. Mike was eager to listen; she was a very attractive girl.

The thing about Amanda that bugged me was that she could not bear to put her hands in a washing up bowl full of dishwater. I wondered who had been doing the washing up for her for the last 33 years. She said she didn’t like it.

Amanda had very dainty hands. I got her some tiny marigold washing up gloves, but she looked at them and shrugged and they disappeared behind the fridge. One day months later I found them. I asked her to try to wash her pans in hot soapy water. For 5 months, the dishes were wiped from a distance without contact with hot washing up water with a dry sponge. For 5 months I shook my head and purchased consecutive sets of new rubber gloves and left them out and sat her down and talked to her about it and she always shrugged. I should have let it go!

I have to remember not to notice the small things.

young guns

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the same age as my first lodger, he had just submitted a tender and won the competition to design the Clifton Suspension Bridge. He was 25. He did not live to see it completed, but that is another story…

My first lodger was a greengrocer, a graduate. He seemed sweet and hopeful when he came to look at the room. I am aware though that I am very forgiving when someone says that they love the house at a viewing.

Alarm bells rung when he called me up the day before he was due to arrive, and asked if I could help him move. He was my first lodger, and whilst it struck me as odd, I did not wish to appear unhelpful. So I borrowed a car and drove across town to get him. I was shocked as I entered his house to find that he had hardly packed. His belongings were strewn around a large house of male students. I recoiled at the stale food and drink debris, and the lingering smells of careless manhood. I waited as he pulled together a few boxes and randomly filled bin liners. It was not a good start. He was disorganised this was clear, and I now had a very bad feeling about having a messy lodger in my neat and tidy house.

When we arrived home I parked up and we unpacked the car. This was not going well for me and the poor lad was on shaky territory. I was quite irritated, though I could not quite put my finger on why. I dropped off a box in the house and returned to the car, parked on a hill, to see it gently rolling backwards over his feet. Luckily I was quick to dive across the seats and pull up the handbrake, which stopped the car from rolling into the oncoming traffic and down the steep hill to disaster. He had wrestled a bag out of the back seat and somehow got caught on the handbrake, as he explained later.

Lets call him Guy.

Guy said”oooww” and hopped around from foot to foot uselessly. I moved the car and finished carrying the loads to the house.

A few days later his deposit and rent cheques both bounced, and co-op charged me for the insult (twice). My friends without lodgers said get him out!

I went home and asked him to leave within a week. He had not endeared himself to me, and I felt compromised and feared his haphazard life in my home. He seemed unlucky.

He disappeared during the night with his bin liners and when we woke up the next day the front door had been left wide open. To be fair, the door was stiff and he may have been careless. Despite the scare, only a few bananas and oranges were missing. Ironic since he was a greengrocer, but I do not own anything of material value to an opportunist. Not even a TV. I am grateful that the outcome was not more violent, we live in a city suburb that has its share of desperation.

A few days later I cleaned the room and moved the bed. Under the bed I found a wadge of bank notes tied in an elastic to the tune of £700 and a prescription for some heavy duty anti depressants.

Guy was a strange lad.

I tried to get in touch with him through the email and telephone numbers I had been given. After 2 weeks I was getting very uneasy.

Had he disappeared?

Had my kicking him out toppled his shakey mind?

I avoided the local evening post for a few days at this point and stopped talking about the situation to anyone, convinced that his tragedy would be sorrowfully complete, and I felt complicit in the demise.

At last he replied to an email nonchalantly and came around to collect the cash. I was greatly relieved to dispense with so much cash in the house and with him.

He seemed neither surprised nor grateful to get his money back, which dispelled some guilt that I had not given him a second chance. I asked for a week of rent to cover the time he stayed at the house and told him to take his huge TV which he had left in the hall.

Last I saw of him he was waddling away from the house with the TV, which probably weighed as much as he did, and a pocket full of bank notes.

Wow. So my first tenant had been and gone already. Not a great success.

My first experience of how dealing with lodger situations can often be confusing.

Onwards and upwards. Image

“I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” IKB

Acting Up

Before Christmas I went on an Assertive Skills training course at work. It was great. We identified positive assertive behaviour and also aggressive or passive aggressive behaviours.I was shocked. The amount of hours I have wasted angry and hurt and frustrated after a conversation or event because I came out of it without what I wanted and had not been able to express myself! I am sure I am not alone.

As part of the course we had to go around the room as it was a small group, and talk about one situation each at work or home where a relationship had broken down. The others all talked about their work relationships. Horrible to think that so many people must be unhappily grinning and bearing terrible work relationships with colleagues. I am a temp so I just do as I am told at work and try to stay out of trouble. So I gave an example of some trouble I was having at home with a lodger who had been living with me for 9 months.

Life at home was miserable as our relationship had become very strained. When I described my situation everyone was far more interested than I had imagined, or hoped. The group suddenly decided that we should act out my situation.

Slightly horrified, I played me, and another member of the course took on the role of Tim.

Tim was anti-social.

I mean that he had difficulty in social situations,  like the kitchen. Most of the time he stayed up in his room and always ate up there, which I did not like. The problem was that he liked to cook and his cooking took hours, so he was in the kitchen on a nightly basis for a large proportion of the evening. He neither instigated or responded to conversation, nor socialised with anyone else in the house in any way other than the odd brief chat. And little by little the space around him shrank and the air became very heavy when he was in the room. The house was too quiet and no one played music – he had asked me to turn down my stereo one Friday early evening a few weeks before this course and it made me angry and irritated as it was only at level 5 and it was 6pm! Usually he avoided me and rarely made himself available to interact on a normal daily basis.

Our role play was exactly like real life.

Hi Tim.

Sigh. Mumble.


How was your day

Sigh. Ok

Nothing. Vacuum.

I usually said something inane at this point and wandered off, hoping to use the kitchen once he had finished.

I never found out much about him. It became depressing being in the same room, as every time I saw him and tried to engage in conversation, despite any good intentions, my energy fizzled out like a damp sparkler.

The assertive skills class were very enthusiastic about the role play and analyzing it at length after.

I was commended on my good acting and persuasive passive submissive body language as I displayed the discomfort I usually felt at being near to Tim.

Sadly, this was not acting. It was a useful exercise though, and I was grateful for the in depth advice and discussion we had together, such a surprise to get help from 10 people I hardly knew. I had tried to be fair in describing Tim, and I think that came across, as he had done nothing wrong, but I was unhappy.

After the course I realised that part of the problem was that I had not taken control of the situation. Things were clearly not working out for us, for the long term. This is ok, not everyone gets on. I had avoided facing the issue and my behaviour had become quite submissive, but it was my job to be the assertive one, to treat him as an equal and square things up. The situation was a product of both of our behaviours.

Not only did I give him notice, but I took positive mental steps to make the last months of his stay more pleasant for us both by being more direct, friendly, and less bothered by his lack of conversation and involvement in the house.

I also decided only to have short term lodgers after that.

The moral of this story is that you might think you want a quiet lodger, but when someone is living in your home, you also want the house to be filled with moderate sounds of life, fun and laughter. Silence in a house full of people is strange and unnatural. Make a little effort and grow.

Watch out for what you wish for!

Nobody home.

We must not get used to the peace and quiet. No lodgers for a whole week.

J____ left yesterday, 2 weeks early, and asked for a refund on his remaining weeks. I said I will see if I can get someone else quickly, but he had stained the sheet so I threw it away, and he owed me £30 cleaning money….things usually even out.

So far Gumtree has bumped out my new lodger ad, no idea why. Meanwhile, I received one response to the current ad, from a guy who came to look around within the hour of emailing, lets call him Ben.

I offered Ben a cup of tea, and as it happens, sympathy. He had big wobbly eyes that said as he walked in that he was sad, and within a moment of stilted pleasantries, he opened up with jagged breath. He was being bullied in his current home, and was desperate to get out or leave Bristol, or something more drastic. The reason that his house had become unbalanced seemed to rest, as usual, on trivial things – noise, mess, but once responses to these become emotional, the heat rises, and issues become emotional. Then they become personal. We chatted a while. I told him that even though he has been at his home for 2 years, things change as different people move in and the dynamic shifts. He should not dig his heels in, but take it lightly, and move out to get some perspective. Moving is a pain but it can also be a huge relief. Things build up and until you have a place of your own, a houseshare may work out, or they may not. There is no formula, except the hope that friendship and tolerance will grow.

My initial reaction when I let Ben into my house was that he was a little creepy, as the intense frustrations and uptightness on his brow seeped into his orbit and distorted his face. Intense.

D___ and I chatted after he had left. Ben was so blue, and I understood, and felt sorry for him. The whole world was reduced to his petty issues and he was full of anger and frustration. I have been the bad guy before, the one singled out in a situation and characterised. You get pushed up against a wall. Everything seems unfair.

He texted me later that day. No thanks he was not in a position to move yet, I knew this. I wished him luck.

As he had left my house, I said “chin up, things will not seem so bad once you move out of the situation”, and he smiled for the first time, weakly. But the smile transformed his face, and he suddenly looked less creepy and more friendly. Possibility opened up.